A corporate travel policy is the set of rules and parameters set by business leadership to manage employees’ bookings and spend when visiting clients, prospects, colleagues, and conferences. Simple, right?
That might seem obvious to the veteran road warrior, but travelers just starting their careers who are opening their first frequent flyer accounts, or those traveling within the boundaries of a new corporate travel policy, are often left scratching their heads when the term arises. Founders and business leaders experiencing exponential growth also confront this question when they recognize that the ad hoc, unspoken rule that team members book on their own and expense what feels right just does not work anymore.
Travel can serve as a strategic lever for growth, but unless managed well through a well-crafted policy, it can bring complications and costs to a growing business. A corporate travel policy is an attempt to organize travel so it becomes as effective, cost-efficient, and easy for everyone involved.
An increasingly urgent need to manage business travel is often a sign of a growing business. The goal of corporate travel policies is to keep employees productive and safe while maximizing the value of each business trip.
When embraced companywide, corporate travel policies give travel managers visibility into spend and better control over how budgets are spent. They enable finance and procurement leaders to monitor everything about the performance of their travel program so they can identify trends and easily optimize for savings. One element that's important is that with greater spend visibility comes the ability to have better clarity when working with suppliers on preferred corporate rates.
But there’s an important factor to consider--the balance between company needs and employee flexibility. These should not be at odds in your corporate travel policy. In fact, a well-written policy will keep your travelers feeling happy and supported while also helping you manage and control travel costs.
For example, let’s say a finance leader wants to implement a plan that mandates employees always select the cheapest seat. This sounds like a good idea on paper, but it might add stress, reduce efficiency, and ultimately drive employees to book out of policy -- making it impossible for companies to plan for the future. Unreasonable cost saving efforts can impact employees’ morale and affect their commitment to the company. The goal then is to craft a plan that takes care of travelers while giving finance leaders and travel managers visibility and the ability to manage spend.
A corporate travel policy should include a clear list of guidelines and rules, and account for the many varied types of travel your employees undertake. This can include sales business trips, conferences, office/site visits and more. Making an inventory of the types of trips your employees have taken over the past year is a great place to start if your company has never had a corporate travel policy before. Are there certain departments or groups that travel more often? Are they entertaining clients or in meetings? Identifying these will help you quickly get to the heart of what needs to be included.
Air - What’s an acceptable booking window? What classes are allowed--and do those differ on international or transoceanic flights? Are free upgrades allowed? Do you have a preferred airline?
Hotel - What room class is allowed? Are there location requirements (distance from meeting, etc.)? Does your policy allow for dramatic fluctuations in city prices, or based on events? (For example, rooms in Barcelona during Mobile World Congress or in San Francisco during Dreamforce can be extraordinarily outside of standard price ranges for the city).
Car - What sizes of car are allowed? What are your insurance requirements? Can rental cars be used for personal activities during a business trip? Will you reimburse for navigation systems?
Meals - What is your daily maximum, and do you allow for cost variations by city? What are your documentation requirements when entertaining clients, colleagues, etc.? Is there a limit on alcohol? What is your guidance on tipping (in countries where that is culturally appropriate)?
Delays - What is the policy around flight cancelations, missed flights, and rebooking?
Support - Who can your business travelers turn to for help in rebooking or finding a last-minute hotel room? Remember, travel is a 24/7 365 business.
Expenses - When do travel expenses need to be reported? How and to whom? Detail the approval process in advance so the traveler has clear expectations before setting off on the trip.
A corporate travel policy can help a company turn business travel into a strategic lever for growth. If you’re looking for more guidance on getting started with managing travel at your organization, download the checklist What to Look for in Your First Managed Employee Travel Program.